The Schreyer Conference on Student Leadership Development is taking place today, and Dr. Spanier provided the opening address. Being the President of Penn State for over a decade, as well as his past experiences, gives Dr. Spanier an incredible amount of experience in leadership to share with the audience.
Dr. Spanier mentioned that he receives 20-30 requests to ‘learn how to be a great leader’ from students, faculty, professors and industry personnel each year. People seem to be looking for a formula for leadership, Dr. Spanier remarked.
“There is no formula for how to be a good leader. “
Leaders don’t ‘take the elevator’ to their role, they have to be willing to put in the hard work, to take the stairs.
Leaders have to be willing to get involved in everything, even if it’s beyond the scope of a job description. Dr. Spanier recounted that he’s never asked anyone that reports to him to do something he’s not willing to do, or hasn’t done in the past.
Being a good leader involves good character and skillsets, and critical thinking is an underlying key to leadership. A good leader must be able to take any issue and examine it from every angle. Adding a bit of poignant humor, Dr. Spanier briefly mentioned how the media and politicians today want to publicize ‘leaders’ that are radically on opposite ends of the spectrum on many important issue our society faces. This is unfortunate, because we need good leaders to be able to see these issues from a variety of angles if we ever want to arrive at the best solutions. Dr. Spanier pointed out that this ‘style’ or type of leadership that we find in politics would never work in the corporate world, or in academe.
Dr. Spanier closed with a story about the Prime Minister of Bhutan, a small country in South East Asia. The Prime Minister was a graduate student at Penn State, and during his studies he was asked by his department to be a representative at the Graduate Student council and other graduate student events. Eventually, he was asked if he would be the president of the Graduate Council. Now, in public discussions, the Prime Minister readily admits that he would not be in the position of leadership he is in today if it were not for the leadership experiences found at Penn State.
“Very often, small gestures have grand consequences”, Dr. Spanier remarked, and asked all in attendance to encourage our students to get more involved with leadership opportunities both with the University, as well as with local communities.